Introduction by Justin Hartford
So begins the phase of the real format of PigTales the way they were intended to be. This was submitted to ChristianPig from an early follower, Grace, and we are very glad for it.
You see, Grace is a feminist, a strong one at that, and she grew up in the Christian church. Many assumptions can be made about those who claim to be feminists, just as assumptions can be made about any label that is handed to and/or embraced by a person. The implications of the assumptions could never be more important than the person themselves, and that is what PigTales are about. I'm not going to do too much of an introduction to set the stage for this PigTale, as it's really not needed here. I will, though, introduce this as the first published PigTale that is the format that they were intended to be. The first few were posted to introduce the staff of ChristianPig, but the whole point of PigTales are to display the infinitely many perspectives that are outside of our bubble. We want as many of our readers/audience as possible to submit their stories so their perspectives can be heard, no matter what they are. Without further ado, here is the first PigTale submission.
I usually feel disenfranchised when talking about the church—specifically because I no longer attend. Yet just as often (for reasons unequivocally ambiguous) I feel compelled to do just that. I suppose if faith is contented free-falling, my story is more pushing and punch-throwing and skyward fist-shaking. So if you had hoped for an enlightened 5-bullet PowerPoint on how Jesus Fixed My Life And He Can Fix Yours Too™ that will make the smoke machines churn, the electric guitars resound, and the parting skies vote Republican, you are probably reading the wrong story. But what I do have is a story, and it begins in the church.
Growing up, the church was more of a home to me than my actual home. Perhaps that’s an ironic statement for someone whose dad was (and is) a pastor. When I wasn’t attending my Christian school, I was attending my dad’s church. When I wasn’t attending my dad’s church, I was following along for all his meetings, sitting in AWANAS or participating in youth group, being driven all across the region for church-related conferences, or tossing water balloons and making friends at Bible camps. And when I wasn’t doing that, I was trying to make sense of home. As the story goes, before my dad became a Christian he had been pretty abusive with my mom and my oldest brothers; and while he had overcome a lot of this behavior by the time I was a kid, my childhood was riddled with that abuse’s residual effects and plenty of yelling. I grew up anxious and shy, which was only exasperated once my second oldest brother started displaying an abnormal and worsening set of symptoms.
My parents’ solution to everything was prayer. Whether that strengthened my faith or damaged it more in the long run I don’t know. But growing up watching your parents try to place Jesus Tape over the cracks in your life does leave a pretty indelible mark—of some sort, at least. My first bout with disbelief was watching them try to solve my brother’s frightening behaviors by converting him. I was pretty young when I angrily thought: Maybe Jesus isn’t actually going to fix my brother.
I was ten years old when he tried to kill my parents. I remember flashes and soundbites from the scene itself. The remainder of the night I remember as if I had been watching from outside my own body. My brother was arrested and diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and went on to spend the next several years bouncing between Warm Springs and prison. In the meanwhile, our family tried to get back on our feet. I was trying pretty hard to reconcile these experiences to my increasing cynicism about this whole God thing… It all left me in a vulnerable spot, though, and just a couple years afterwards, I met the man with whom I would spend the next several years in an abusive relationship.
I don’t particularly want to talk about the relationship itself. My decision to leave came at the culmination of years of escalating abuse—at which point I was struck with the epiphany that if I didn’t get out, he very well might have made good on his promise to kill me. What followed when I did leave were, without a doubt, the worst several months of my life. People often call the rampant victim blaming and mishandling of rape cases a “Second Rape” for how awfully it re-traumatizes victims. If it’s anything like my experience after being abused, that about sums it up.
I reported it to the police who initially didn’t even believe me, then just shrugged it off as a silly teenage girl trying to get revenge on her ex, told me it was probably my fault anyways, had a good belly laugh, and left. With about two exceptions, everyone I told blamed me, disbelieved me, or otherwise alienated me… For I-don’t-remember-how-many months, my life devolved into a series of symptoms: serious insomnia, frequent crying (triggered by just about anything), depression and anhedonia, frequently re-experiencing the abusive memories, and recurrent panic attacks. Of course, my parents were convinced this all was just because of a lack of faith, or whatever.
What, do you just like being abused?
Why aren’t you over that yet?
Just stop it with all this crying. If you gave it to God, you’d be over it already.
I am going to keep this remarkably short and say… It got really ugly.
Let’s rewind through some of those previous years, during which I’d spent my time walking on eggshells trying to mask my deepening depression, avoiding an increasingly long list of “triggers,” and desperately searching for answers within the church. Bearing in mind that a good majority of current white conservative American Church Culture revolves around patriarchal ideals—particularly about sex, gender, women, and sexist gender roles—this was truly the worst thing I could have done. Throughout the abuse, I had kept a prayer journal and read the Bible every night… It irked me that much of what I was being fed in church totally contradicted the picture of Jesus I had always held in my mind. Nonetheless, at the time I was not yet able to rebut these ideas, deconstruct such social norms and constructs, or explain how ontological equality was actually inseparable from functional equality, so internalize it all I did. And in short, I was able to keep it up, all the way—and only—up until I was not.
Aside from the fact that God had clearly never had a period, I decided God was also a gargantuan asshole.
Mind you, I haven’t even brought up the rest of the crap we ladies have to go through just for being ladies. But what I’d really like to focus on is how in all of this, I ended up finding hope in feminism. When I found no social support within the church, I turned to other victims: in person and online, and to any and every informative resource I could. I was floored not only by how similar their stories were but also the similarity of the abuses they experienced in the church. This all snowballed into my deep passion for women’s rights (and eventually, all anti-oppression)… But I suppose that is a story in itself.
There seem to be a group of Christians who categorically reject feminism, as if it is some unruly evil (I might have patience for these people if they could so much as define feminism, but I digress). And maybe it serves them well not to have women “abrasive” enough to question that--to say: when God can supposedly speak through asses and rocks but not through women, is that more of an insult to women or to God?
It was many a woman in the Old Testament that were praised for breaking the rules of patriarchy—even for driving stakes into the heads of kings. Chutzpah. But it was Jesus Christ himself who conversed with the woman at the well. Who reassigned the responsibility of lust to the person doing the lusting. Who flipped the tables of a misogynistic society when he did not condemn the woman caught in adultery. It was Jesus Christ who was born of, laughed with, wept with, talked with, healed, and regularly depended upon women. Just as it was Jesus Christ who, resurrected, chose to make his appearance first to women—and made them the first pastors, despite the fact that society deemed women unreliable witnesses. And it was Jesus Christ who appointed Mary Magdeline (a woman no less!) the leadership, honor, and responsibility of becoming Apostle to the Apostles.
It was Rachel Held Evans who taught me the correct definition of the (often-abused) term helpmeet found in Genesis. In Hebrew, it is Ezer k’gnedo: “the help that opposes,” explained by the image of two posts of equal weight leaning against each other… Without equal force they cannot stand. It was the Old Testament which tells us that patriarchy in fact entered the world, not by God’s “plan” but through a curse; just as it was the New Testament that told me about a man who came to restore what once was lost, to reassign value to the marginalized, and to set the oppressed free. And it was Jesus’ sacrifice that indelibly redefined this hierarchal status between men and women, so that our identity would no longer be found in male nor female—neither slave nor free—but in the holy spirit, who would be poured out among both sons and daughters.
Nope, it was not a “radical feminizing movement” with an “anti-male agenda” that introduced me to the philosophies of feminism. It was the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Although after initially leaving I struggled for some time to get back with the church, a series of other events resulted in my leaving it for good… That being said, I am in a strange place now. I have a hard time explaining to most of my friends that, because of my background, I feel a bizarre sense of loyalty to the church, and that my old faith has remarkably informed my worldview… just as much as I have a hard time explaining to my Christian friends how jaded and disillusioned I am with the church. How I don’t really even believe in God most days, and on days when I do, I still wish I didn’t. Some people tell me doubt is heretical. Some people tell me doubt is the beginning of true knowledge. And some people tell me about a man who did not turn away a doubter, but opened to him the holes in his hands. So whatever the answers to my questions, perhaps the biggest part of it all is in being willing to stick around for the story.